This time last year, the U.S. had just declared a national emergency around COVID-19 and “panic-buying” and “pantry loading” were added to our vocabulary as an industry. As we lap the initial weeks of the pandemic, alcohol sales were still up 12.6% in off-premise channels for the week ending in March 6, but a slight decline is expected as March 14 and March 21 last year were the two biggest weeks for sales, according to new data from Nielsen IQ.
According to the data, spirits led the way for the week of March 6, up 20.4%. The ready-to-drink category continued to show strong year-over year growth up 166%, while Japanese whisky came in at 57.4% growth, and tequila was close behind at 53.6%. A strong indicator of the anniversary of the pandemic was the sharp 34% decline in grain alcohol sales, as consumers loaded up on grain alcohol to make hand sanitizers.
Table wine increased nearly 8% in the off-premise for the period, led by higher priced offerings. In fact, all price tiers below $11 lost share to the wines priced above $11, which gained 2.2 share points compared to the same period in 2020. Sparkling wines continue to be on fire, up 76.4% as a whole, and French champagne sales specifically are up 78% year-to-date.
Hard seltzer growth is slowing, but still up 53% for the week ending March 6. Mexican imports delivered a healthy 15.2% growth, while premium lights grew by 4%, super premium grew by 13.5%, cider grew by 9.1%, and craft beer grew by 8.8%. Below premium (-3.2%) and premium regular (-0.5%) were the only segments to decline for the week ending 3/06/21 compared to the same week last year, according to NielsenIQ.